Here Comes the Sun
I spoke about the danger of neglecting investment in the kind of lightweight rail that doesn’t damage infrastructure (as much) and is good for the environment, commenting particularly on the fact that Parry People Movers may lose out on funding to help develop a prototype unit designed to carry more passengers than its current products, most notably the Class 139, are able to do. However, products like those envisaged by PPM are the ones intended for unelectrified routes, where it is seen as simply not economic to string up wires or lay third rail based on the amount of traffic that would use the route. This is the sort of market that PPM are looking to get into, with potential customers like GO!. But what if the electrification is already in place? PPM markets its products through its flywheel technology as an alternative to full up diesel vehicles. However, the Abbey Line, which is the kind of single track rural route that PPM would look to operate on, is already electrified. In 2009, Lord Adonis announced that the line would be converted to tram-train operation – initially it would remain within the existing route, but using tram type vehicles rather than conventional heavy rail, with the possibility that on-street running at either end (or both ends) may be introduced later. The Abbey Line is a community rail line, with the Abbey Flyer User Group having a say in its running. Their response to Lord A’s proposal is quite detailed in several areas, including the provision of future rolling stock. Unhappy with the idea of replacing trains with trams, which may potentially have fewer seats, they suggest the option of running trams in multiple. This is where a product like the Stadler GTW may well be of use – this is a genuine tram-train, as it is low floor with covered wheels suitable for on street running, but also has a Scharfenberg coupler that would allow it to operate in multiple, just as the AFUG suggest. In addition, the GTW can be produced for either diesel or electric operation. So, dependent on the loading gauge of the line and the trains, vehicles could be procured relatively easily and quickly for this. In fact, how difficult would it be to expand the loading gauge while the infrastructure is being converted for tram-train operation? Something to consider.